Well, after commenting vigorously on recent posts about the ups and downs of some favorite dining spots, I got a double dose myself on this Monday, July 5. (It seems that I wasn't the only one.) First, was an impromptu lunch at Hal's in Venice which I always enjoy for a casual yet stylish meal. The open warehouse setting with rotating art and a commanding bar is really the only Soho/Greenwich Village style neighborhood place around. The food is always good and today was no exception. They were serving their brunch menu with a greater emphasis on breakfast items and we were really geared more for lunch and satisfied ourselves with a fresh garden salad with crunchy green beans, cherry tomatoes, various lettuces and a sharp vinaigrette for $8. My friend had the crab sandwich with excellent fries for $14. The crab took the form of a large cake or patty and the texture was nice although he found the crab overwhelmed with other ingredients. The server was certainly professional but overextended as if they had not planned on being as busy as they were. (And the homemade biscuits and muffins were delicious and filling.)
It seems to be a theme for restaurants that venture to open on holidays (or post holidays) that staffing becomes an issue. But we were grateful that another favorite SM spot, Rocca, was open. Many were not. But like Hal's they were understaffed with a private party upstairs and a full dining room downstairs. I have always found the staff friendly and knowledgable and tonight was no exception with an attentive host taking our wine order and presenting it. But we competed for our server's attention and once orders were taken things moved along. Unfortunately, the finesse that was lost in the front of the house carried through to much greater detriment in the kitchen. Dishes that were normally vibrant were lacking in various ways. For instance, a small skillet of mussels for $12 were overcooked and a usually terrific bucattini carbonara for $8 was more like scrambled eggs and pasta. A chicken liver ravioli in browned butter and sage was satisfying at $9
for five. (Note was taken that both the chef and owner, each named Don, were off tonight.)
Some acquaintences sitting at a table across from us made the same complaint but because we've all had good experiences here in the past we'd return. However, if this were my first time, I doubt I would.
Next year, BBQ ribs and chicken from Costco and a good DVD.